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Posted: Aug 20 2017, 11:23 PM
number one dad
Joined: 25-February 11
It snows the night Felix Menaker sees Osip Tabenkin kill a man -- a heavy, wet, unseasonal snow spat out from a sky that drapes over the city like wet velvet, that slushes the streets and spackles the lights along the pier and soaks through the thin cardboard soles of his shoes.
He steps outside anyway. Maybe to ask a question, maybe to get a little respite from the hot cramped quarters of the warehouse where he and a half dozen other young men are cutting barrels of Canadian rye into watery fifths, maybe for some other stupid reason that he'll never understand – but he sets out along the pier anyway, with his collar turned up and his hands in his pockets. He likes the city on nights like this, likes the soft alien quiet of it. Likes how it reminds him of a sleeping animal, waiting to exhale.
Tonight, though, there are voices along the pier. He strolls along a little while, eyes adjusting to the light and sees – Osip, by the broad stubborn set of his shoulders, and some other man there, older, no one that Felix has ever seen before. Some agitated conversation between them that he doesn’t catch, though the rising pitch of it carries across the water. He makes his way towards them. When he comes up thirty feet away, Osip’s arm moves out of his pocket and slashes, quick and economical – up, across, in in in ---
The moment stretches, utterly impossible.
Then, all at once: a soft, wet, guttural noise, the man starting to crumple, the snow turning dark. Felix must make some sound too, because Osip turns his head to look at him, lizard-slow.
“Felix,” he says, taking a step forward, and Felix starts walking back, hands out, his shoes skidding, stumbling, mouth moving don’t, don’t, no. The knife is still in Osip’s hand, the front of his coat slick and dark. “Felix, listen to me.”
He can’t listen. He moves back, back, gibbering like a fucking idiot, “-- what the fuck -- what the fuck did you do --” but Osip is too big, too quick on his feet not to close the distance. He grabs Felix by the shoulders, holds him close with a rough palm at the back of the neck until he stills. Until he sees the knife lying in the snow.
“-- I had to do it. This guy – you don’t know this guy, these people, not like I do. They’re dangerous men, Felya. I had to, to protect us. All of us, you understand?”
He doesn't. He's looking at the body -- a dark-haired man, a little stout around his punctured middle, both hands clasped uselessly over the broad gash under his neck -- even as Osip keeps pulling his head away, saying "Felya. Look at me,” and unbidden, the ghost of a memory wells up, how, years ago, when tinny broadcasts about the war in Europe were still on the radio, Osip Tabenkin used to come by for dinner with the rebbe sometimes, the way men sometimes would; how he used to bring fresh peaches from the store for Bina and the girls. "I had to,” he keeps saying, and both his and the dead man’s eyes are very still and very blue. Through the thin partition wall Felix remembers one of those endless annoying circuitous arguments --
a man protects, that is what a man does, rebbe and Rebbe Hirsch audibly frowning, yes, yes, Yussel, but that is not what a man is for--
“I can protect you too,” he says. “But I need you to do exactly as I say. Can you do that for me?”
Felix sucks in a breath. There is a smell that curls up from the dying man – not strong, not yet, but pungent and unmistakeable, a warm meat stench that makes his throat go tight. He locks his knees to keep his legs from shaking, makes his chin move once.
“Good man.” Osip stoops and peels the dead man’s body up like a sack of grain in the warehouse, like so much limp, empty nothing. It is wrong, all of it, all of this, but Felix is relieved when he doesn't ask him for help with the body, and then is ashamed, suddenly, at his relief. The dead man slumps into the water, uncaring. The river swallows him up without a sound.
“Go home and get some rest,” he says, not unkindly. “Tomorrow this will all be a bad dream.”
Later, much later, Felix toes past Bina and the rebbe in the dark, past the sloe-eyed Hirsch girls sleeping in the little bed beside the kitchen to where streetlight slants in golden-white through the single tall, drafty window over his bed. He curls his shaking knees to his chest and listens to the tide of his own breathing.
He doesn’t dream at all.
The days pass uneventfully. The snow melts. Life's rhythm continues unbroken, unchanging, and that is wrong too, somehow -- after all, that night should have been the most important of his life, shouldn't it? But instead there are times Felix finds himself forgetting, or looking for something he can’t quite put a name to -- hoping against hope at the docks with the rest of the would-be stevedores, running a few discreet cases of brandy up to the little watering hole up on 26th. Sometimes his chest goes tight, but if it wasn't for few extra dollars in his cut, or that Osip doesn't offer him work for the rest of the week, then it might have been as though none of it had ever happened at all.
It is worse, somehow, to know a thing and not to think about it.
And then the policemen come – on Shabbos, no less. Clever, some strange, detached part of Felix thinks, watching them stalk into the neighbouring tenement. It isn’t the first or the last time that the police have come to canvass this block, but when they come out empty-handed and cross the street his heart leaps into his throat anyway.
At the door, the knock, Officers Grady and McCallum. The entire fifth floor peering out into the hall at the rebbe looking at a photograph.
“Do you know this man?”
“No,” Rebbe Hirsch says, sighing. “I’m afraid I don’t. Who is he?”
Felix presses himself up to the doorjamb to look. He can’t see the photograph from here, but he knows long before they show it to him. All the guilt twisted up in his insides knots into a tight, cold fist.
After, on the rooftop:
“Here’s what we do," Osip says, very calm. “First, you’re going to take this up to that vulture up on Bellevue. I can't do it, but --"
“Gai tren zich -- are you serious?” Felix is sputtering, waving his hands around in the air, forgetting - for a moment - how absolutely terrified he should be, how the dead man is only dead because Osip killed him. That part he can't think about yet, so he throws himself at the other one, all the wild coiled up panic in his chest coming loose. “You slit his throat, it’s -- that doesn’t just – you can’t just make that go away --”
“He can. He does.” Still that same, infuriating calm. He presses a parcel wrapped in unassuming butcher paper into Felix's hands. There is nothing interesting about it whatsoever, besides being the rough size and shape and weight of a substantial quantity of bills. “Please, Felix. You just have to convince him. That should be enough, but -” A second parcel, smaller. “More, if he asks.”
Like there’s a standard price and practice for these things. Like Osip knows what that price would be out of habit. Like it isn’t more money than Felix has ever seen in his life.
“You’re crazy,” he says, just as Osip blurts, “You’re the only one I can trust.”
The city morgue sits up on 29th street --- not far, not really, though the contours of Felix’s universe are etched out in miniature, and the occasional night deliveries he makes up to Harlem might as well be to the surface of the Moon. Still, this, too, is another planet: the handsome, curlicued facade that reads PATHOLOGY BUILDING darkening with the peevish spring rain; inside, the black-and-white checkered floors and high, sterile ceilings, electric globe lights hanging from them like ripening fruit. He thrums with nervous energy sidling past the white-coated staff; a gangly, hawkish-looking young man with wild dark hair and shabby clothes, taking the steps two at a time like he knows the place.
He doesn’t, but --- ah, there it is. Chief Medical Examiner. Hat in hand, he smooths down his hair and shifts his rucksack on his shoulder – wants to take a breath to collect himself and his thoughts, come up with a plan, but no, no. No time. Across the hall one of the attendants from the lobby stands at the top of the stairs, craning her head to look for the intruder.
Felix raps his fist against the door.
Posted: Aug 24 2017, 12:47 AM
Joined: 27-July 17
The man behind the desk behind the door under the plaque sighed, and pinched the bridge of his nose. He affixed an affable expression to his deep-furrowed face and rose to answer the unexpected visitor.
The door swung open, revealing an indigent and the sound of sensible square heels on the hallway boards. The latter were soon explained to be from Miss Perkins, who was moving at a remarkable pace towards the doorway. Unexpected turn of speed on that woman, though the fierce expression was no surprise.
Her target, though, looked like a lost kid. Not his usual kind of visitor, that one.
“I’m terribly sorry, Dr Moore, he rushed right past me--” Miss Perkins started, and Dr Moore waved a hand generously.
“Bellevue is a public hospital, Miss Perkins,” he said, all indulgence. “Who’s to say the young man isn’t in need of care?” He watched Miss Perkins’s eyes dart towards the sign on the door, then to the kid, and gave her a gentle, understanding smile that did not reach his eyes.
Her lip twisted in distaste, but she nodded, and Dr Moore took the opportunity to slap the kid on the shoulder.
“Now, come on in, and don’t mind Dr Black.”
Inside the room, a man in a white lab coat was pushing a wooden chair back into place in front of Dr Moore’s well-polished kneehole desk, stepping away as Moore entered the room
“My work does not wait,” said Dr Black, by way of an excuse to leave, his tongue tripping on the Ws. His boyish voice suited his rounded face, which matched the slight plumpness to the rest of him. Though short, with slumped shoulders that spoke of hours bending over laboratory work, he kept a certain lift to his chin.
Moore, however, laughed, and shut the door behind him, retaking the better, leather-backed seat on the other side of the desk. “Oh, no need to worry.” He moved his attention to the kid again, and extended a hand to shake over the gulf of old-fashioned green leather. “Now, I’m Dr Arthur F. Moore, Chief Medical Examiner for the City of New York, that is Dr Black, one of my very busy assistants. What can we do for you?”
Though the tone was light, and Moore was posed comfortably in his chair, his pale eyes focused a little too sharply on the kid’s scruffy clothes and ill-kept hair.